School holiday parties: will your gluten-free kid feel like one of the gang?


Be honest: does the thought of an upcoming school holiday party conjure up images of your g-free kid having Charlie Brown’s typical luck: being left out of all the fun and feeling like the odd man out? With a little planning and a pre-party attitude check, this certainly doesn’t have to be the case — in fact, it can be quite the opposite…

Most preschool and elementary school classes in the U.S. will be having a Valentine’s Day party next Tuesday (like it or not) complete with snacks, drinks and valentine card/candy exchanges. How you view your child’s party will probably reflect the way your child sees it, so it’s a good idea to think about how you’re going to approach it beforehand…

Pre-party list check
To kids, Valentine’s Day is mostly about the candy. The list of gluten-free candy is as long as that zigzag thing around Charlie Brown’s waist….it just keeps going and going. Sure, there is definitely candy that your child needs [to know] to avoid — like licorice or anything containing cookie pieces or “crisps” — to name the obvious. But with so many great lists of gluten-free candy out there, you really can’t go wrong, as long as you teach your child the differences between them.

My favorite, go-to list is from Celiac Family — I love how it’s organized by color and level of safety. It starts with candy (listed in green) that is safe, no question. The middle portion of this list (the type in orange) indicates label warnings about production lines, etc. Personally, I will buy candy in packages that read “manufactured in a facility that produces wheat…” but I will not buy candy that reads “may contain wheat” even if the ingredients appear g-free. But that’s just me. If that’s not strict enough for your family, then stick with the list at the top in green type. As far as the red list at the bottom goes, (if your child is old enough) bring him to the grocery store with you, (or look online) show him what all of those candies look like and explain why he can’t eat them. Then, of course, be sure to remind him that there is plenty of candy he can still enjoy.

Here are a few ways you can handle holiday parties, depending on the level of your desired involvement and your child’s personality:

“Sally”:  Some parents will print off a list to notify parents and teachers of the huge assortment of GF candy they can buy to accommodate all students, as well as a list of gluten-free party treat and snack ideas. They might send along a nice note saying how much they and their child would appreciate everyone making sure food is safe for the entire class. If parents really want to get involved with the party planning, they’ll call the teacher or room parents to coordinate what will be served. This might be a good option if you have a very young child who doesn’t yet understand what he can or cannot eat, needs a lot of direction, or has difficulty speaking for himself. This will also help to ease a new-at-gluten-free parent’s fears of the unknown, until they settle into the new routine.

“Peppermint Patty”:  At the other end of the spectrum are parents who just want to know when the party is so they can send their own food in. These parents choose to just prep their g-free kid to not eat anything he’s not absolutely sure about, and will send him in with any type of treat and a few pieces of candy. This way he has his own stuff to enjoy, regardless of whether or not there is anything served that is safe for him to eat. This will work fine for more independent kids, and those who are very comfortable eating their own food and don’t care that what they have might be different.This also works well for parents who don’t want to feel like they are rocking the boat but still want their kids to be safe.

“Lucy”:  A middle-of-the-road option is parents who check to see when a party is and ask what’s being sent in for it — making it clear that they are not trying to control anything, but that they just want to send in something comparable for their child. Other parents/teachers who are involved will be reminded of a child’s needs, but not feel like this parent is trying to dictate the plans. This works well for parents who are used to parties like this, knowing that there may or may not be some things their child can eat. It works for kids who are confident enough to know they can only eat certain things but who also don’t want to feel like they stick out with what they are eating, or feel left out with what they’re not. (Hence, sending in a comparable treat.)

*With any of these options, parents can also volunteer to send in a sweet, g-free treat for the whole class, like fruit skewers or chocolate-dipped marshmallows with sprinkles.

Pre-party reality check
Clearly, what works for your family may be a combination of these, or something entirely different. And you may find yourself moving from one extreme to the other as your child’s needs change. There’s no right or wrong. Every family must find their most comfortable way of handling things like this, and sometimes it takes a certain amount of adaptation to see what works best.

While we can’t expect the world to conform to our kids’ needs, you may find that, in time, as you and your child help spread awareness about gluten-free foods, that you might gain some new supporters. I personally believe that a lot of it depends on your family’s attitude and how demanding you are that other people accommodate your child’s diet. From my experience, politeness and sincerity go a long way to work in your favor, as well as gratitude for even the smallest gesture of thoughtfulness that is shown along the way.

Pre-party attitude check
As a parent, however you decide to handle school holiday parties, please remember to put on a happy face when discussing it with your child. G-free kids of all ages may already be a bit uneasy, especially if they are new at the diet. Show them that you are excited that they get to go to a party, remind them about what’s okay for them to eat, and let them know what they’ll be bringing in for it. Tell them you hope they have fun and that you can’t wait to hear all about it. Remind them that holiday parties are about a lot more than just food — and to just relax and enjoy their friendships, the decorations, music, games, Valentine cards and loot. Kids are much more resilient, adaptable and flexible than some people might think.

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Do you have any more thoughts on the topic that might help other parents?
Feel free to comment below with any additional advice. Thanks!

9 thoughts on “School holiday parties: will your gluten-free kid feel like one of the gang?

  1. We are awaiting the results on both of our girls and until then the doctor has placed them on a GF diet. I have been GF for a couple months now and for me sweets and party foods are easy to navigate. However, we had family and friends over for a super bowl party and because we are so new to this many of our friends do not know yet, so some brought food. This really turned out to be a big disaster for us. My oldest child loaded her plate and began to eat long before I realized what was going on and refused to stop eating it since she had already started. And when the cheese cake was brought out with loads of Oreo’s falling off of the top of it my kids went nuts. It really was a very very tough thing for me to watch as a parent and left me feeling really out of control. I thought I had everything under control since I was cooking for everyone and never anticipated people going ahead and bringing food. It was a huge learning experience for me and I will make certain that I am better prepared next time but right now the thought of a party makes my heart rest in my throat and I DO NOT want my kids to feel slighted or feel anxiety over a party.
    I really love the article and will be using some of these tips!

    • Hey Kim, I can imagine your pain throughout that party. I think that once your girls get a definite diagnosis you will have much better experiences. Whether it’s celiac or gluten sensitivity, you will at least have an answer, and at that point you can start educating your friends and family (and daughters) on the gluten-free diet and all that it entails. People will always bring things to parties, but after this experience you’ll remember to check with them and see if they can possibly make some changes to their recipes (which is often easily done) to make them gluten-free for your girls to enjoy, too. However, food with gluten will inevitably be tempting your girls for a while, until they realize how satisfying the GF diet can really be. It sounds like you’re all kind of in limbo right now waiting for a diagnosis, but I really feel like things will improve once things become more clear. They will soon learn what they are and are not allowed to eat and they will learn to comply. Thanks for the comment and best of luck to you and your girls! Hope to keep seeing you on the site and Facebook. -Katie

  2. Limbo is defiantly where we are now. I have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and have made the switch to GF living and have never felt better. So for me party situations haven’t been bad but this was the first time I’ve experienced a party with my kids having to adhere to a GF diet. I WILL be so happy when the test results come back. Because, just like you said, once we have a diagnosis clarity will come. Thanks again!

    • Thank you so much Kimberly! That is so nice to hear. Let me get back to you on the RSS thing. It was there initially, but along with it there was a bunch of other things that were confusing people so I took it off. I’ll put the word out on Facebook when it’s back up, or I’ll email you, since I have your email address from your photo album submission. Thanks again! -Katie

  3. I’m new to the Gluten Free world and am finding it a little overwhelming! My son has food allergies. He’s 4 and has been dairy free since birth, soy free for 7 months and just recently his doctor put him on a gluten free diet. We’re awaiting testing to find out if he actually has Celiac Disease or a gluten/wheat intolerance. Thankfully there’s a lot of information online. I’m looking for quick/easy gluten free recipes for kids and for the whole family. I’m just at the beginner’s stage and re-stocking my pantry has been expensive. I also don’t have access to half the ingredients that some of the baking recipes call for. I feel inadequate for wanting to use pre-packaged baking items. I’m also really nervous for his Valentine’s party at the preschool he attends. Parent’s are only allowed to bring store bought items to parties. What do I do?

    • Hi Nikki, Welcome to the world of gluten-free! Try not to let yourself feel inadequate. You have a lot more to watch out for than I do, with my kids just on a plain ol’ gluten-free diet. You have it a lot harder with your son also being soy-free and dairy-free. I always feel for people who have to avoid multiple things! For recipes, you can check out my PDF of recipes that I have on this site under “recipes”…there are some things in there that should work for your family. As for prepackaged, store-bought food, I’m not so sure offhand. I am going to put your question on my Facebook page to see if other people out there can recommend anything for you, so keep your eye on that. You’re going to have a tough time w/ the things other people bring in, as soy and dairy are in so many things. If you’re looking for something to share with the class, there are allergen free brands like Enjoy Life that you can bring in, but you may just want to send in some extra home-made goodies for him. Best of luck. -Katie

  4. Katie-
    I shared this site with the director of my son’s preschool and she’s going to make the chocolate dipped marshmallows for the entire preschool!
    Thank you for helping me. I will keep an eye out here and on your facebook page.


    • Nikki- That’s awesome! 🙂 I was thinking of the chocolate dipped marshmallows until you said everything had to be store bought, but that is wonderful that it worked out like that! Great idea to take the time to share the site w/ her and that she is so willing to help, too. And believe me: all of the kids are going to love that treat! I hope he has a wonderful party on Tuesday! Thanks for letting me know the good news. -Katie

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